If you kept a checklist of what the Bucs needed to do Sunday to upset the defending Super Bowl champion Packers and white-hot quarterback Aaron Rodgers, there weren’t many boxes unchecked.
• Play physical? LeGarrette Blount, who rushed for 107 yards, plowed through six Packers on his way to a 54-yard touchdown.
• Compete for the football? Tight end Kellen Winslow (nine catches for 132 yards) and receivers Mike Williams (seven for 83) and Arrelious Benn (five for 75) helped Josh Freeman throw for a career-high 342 yards and two touchdowns.
• Pressure Rodgers? The Bucs had two sacks and an interception.
• Give a better effort? They trailed the undefeated Packers — on the road — by a missed two-point conversion with 4:25 left.
• Play smart? Uh-oh.
The Bucs’ 35-26 loss might be remembered as the day sanity took a knee, including the decision by coach Raheem Morris that will be the No. 1 watercooler topic today in Tampa Bay.
Instead of kicking it deep after Freeman’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Dezmon Briscoe cut the Packers’ lead to 28-26 with 4:25 to play, Morris ordered his second onside kick of the game.
For the second time, it failed.
The Packers got the ball at the Bucs 46 and three plays later clinched the game with a 40-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers to Jordy Nelson.
“We’re not going to apologize for being aggressive,” Morris said of the second onside kick. “When you play the Green Bay Packers, you’ve got to play aggressive. You’ve got to … try to steal possessions.”
It wasn’t Tampa Bay’s only miscue.
The Bucs committed nine penalties. (Their 83 for the season are fourth most in the league.) One nullified an interception. One nullified a touchdown. And one kept alive a Packers drive that ended with a touchdown.
Playing the Packers (10-0) tough wasn’t much consolation for the Bucs (4-6), who lost their fourth straight (fifth in the past six) and have matched their defeats of all of 2010.
“We gave ourselves an opportunity to win,” cornerback Ronde Barber said. “We knew we were going to play (man-to-man defense); we were going to blitz; we were going to do everything everybody else is scared to do to (Rodgers). We felt good about it until … Jordy’s touchdown.
“If we get one more third down stop on their (last) touchdown, I think we win this game.”
The Bucs wasted tremendous performances one week after Morris questioned their effort in a 37-9 loss to the Texans. Trailing 14-0, Blount set the tone, knocking Packers down like bowling pins on his way to the end zone during the second quarter.
“He ran with passion,” Morris said.
Sunday marked the first time since Dec. 2, 2007, the Bucs had a 100-yard rusher, 100-yard receiver and 300-yard passer in the same game, and they outgained the Packers 455-378.
But twice, the Bucs settled for field goals in the red zone, and Winslow was involved in two critical plays: He was called for pass interference, erasing his third-quarter touchdown catch, and he dropped a two-point conversion pass that would have tied the score 1:53 into the fourth.
Rodgers passed for 299 yards and three scores but came away disappointed after missing on 11 throws, including a late interception with his team up 28-19.
“I didn’t throw the ball very well,” he said. “I’m not trying to be ridiculously humble.”
The trouble for the Bucs came on third downs. The Packers converted 7 of 12, including Rodgers completions of 34, 26, 35, 19 and 40 yards. (The 40-yarder was the clinching touchdown to Nelson.)
“We asked them to go out there and play man-to-man against the Green Bay Packers; versus (Greg) Jennings, versus Jordy Nelson, versus James Jones, versus Jermichael Finley, versus some really good wideouts,” Morris said. “You’re going to have up-and-down moments.”
So the Bucs lost another game, but in the process, they might have found a formula for success.
“We put some things together and got back to some stuff we saw last year in 2010,” center Jeff Faine said. “We saw LeGarrette get off a little bit and run. We saw the wide receivers make some plays, and Josh had a hell of a day. He had a career day. It just wasn’t enough.
“This should definitely be the caliber of play that we should come with every day.”
St. Petersburg Times